WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, June 18, 2019) –Parents, grandparents, guardians, caregivers and babysitters in Virginia have less than two weeks left to “get their houses in order,” so to speak, when it comes to correctly transporting any child two-years-old or younger in their vehicles. They must safely secure the child in the newly mandated age-appropriate child restraint seat, starting July 1, 2019. On that date a new Virginia law will require parents to keep their precious infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats until the child turns two, or reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint seat, as prescribed by its manufacturer. A similar law went into effect in Washington, D.C. on March 1, 2019.
The new Virginia law (House Bill 708) was actually passed and signed into law in 2018 with a mid-2019 effective date. Championed by AAA Mid-Atlantic, it will bring Virginia’s code in line with the safety recommendations of traffic safety advocates such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, etc. “Child restraint systems are the most effective way to protect young children involved in motor vehicle crashes,” advises NHTSA.
“Children, the most precious cargo in the world, are safest when they are kept rear-facing in a car seat for as long as possible,” said Leah Scully, Traffic Safety Community Educator, Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety & Education. “Instead of focusing on the minimum weight limit to face forward, consider keeping your child rear facing until they reach the maximum weight limit of a convertible car seat- which has a higher rear-facing weight and height limit than an infant seat.”
On the other side of the Potomac, the law lays it down under District code § 50-1703. Now under District law, as of three months ago, March 1, 2019, “children under two years of age, who weigh less than 40 pounds or who measure less than 40 inches in length, must be properly restrained in a rear-facing child restraint seat.” Pediatricians, many car seat manufacturers, as well as the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education recommend keeping children rear facing at least until two years of age or longer depending on the child’s size. “Convertible seats transition a child from rear facing to forward facing and can typically carry a child from birth to the booster stage,” said Scully, who is also a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
“Shockingly, seven out of ten children are improperly restrained in vehicles, and 95 percent of child restraint seats aren’t properly installed. Sadly, many parents never bother to even read the owner’s manual, putting their own flesh and blood at risk of death or a serious injury in a crash, ” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “It is a matter of physiology and physics. ‘Young children, due to their small size and early skeletal development, are at a much greater risk of serious bodily risk in motor vehicle crashes than are adults.’ It is an established fact of life. Using the right car safety seat or booster seat lowers the risk of death or serious injury by more than 70 percent, research shows.”
Exceptions to the requirement, under the current law in Virginia, can be made if a doctor determines that the use of a child restraint system is impractical for size, physical unfitness or other medical reasons. Those transporting a child who has been granted this exemption must carry a signed written statement from a physician at all times. Consider the following facts and figures that underscore why the new law is an imperative.
Children are about 75% less likely to die or sustain serious injury in a rear-facing seat. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
Rear-facing seats disperse the crash force more evenly across the back of the seat and the child’s body and limit the motion of the head, reducing the potential of neck injury. Safe Kids
Per the American Academy of Pediatrics (2011 policy statement), young children’s bones, ligaments and joints are still developing which place them at an increased risk of head and spinal cord injury. Rear-facing seats can reduce this risk by supporting the head and preventing the relatively large head from moving independently from the proportionately smaller neck. The American Academy of Pediatrics updated policy statement from August 2018 “recommends children remain in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.”
Nearly all convertible child safety seats on the market in 2017 (73 out of 77) could accommodate children up to 40 pounds or more when used rear-facing, a weight that exceeds the 95th percentile for children at 2 years of age.
The change is recommended by AAA Safe Seats 4 Kids, American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Consumer Reports, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Make Safe Happen, and Safe Kids.
A violation of the tougher rear facing requirement in Virginia will be the same as existing penalties. First violations are subject to a civil penalty of $50 and second or subsequent offenses on different dates are subject to a civil penalty of up to $500. All civil penalties collected for violations are paid into the Child Restraint Device Special Fund (§ 46.2-1097), which is used promote, purchase, and distribute child restraint devices to applicants who need a child restraint device but are unable to afford one, notes the auto club.
Child Passenger Safety Laws In Nearby Jurisdictions.
The District of Columbia. Children ages 8 until 16 are required to be restrained in a child restraint or seat belt. Children under age 2 and less than 40 lbs. and 40 in. must be rear-facing. Children under age 8 are required to be restrained in a child restraint. Violation of the child restraint law is a standard offense. “The operator of a motor vehicle may not transport any child of less than 3 years of age unless the child is properly restrained in a child restraint seat; provided, that, if the child weighs less than 40 pounds or measures less than 40 inches in length, and is under 2 years of age, the child shall be properly restrained in a rear-facing child restraint seat.”
Maryland. Children under age 16 must be restrained in a seat belt or a child safety seat. All children under age 8 must be secured in a child safety seat unless the child is 4 feet 9 inches or taller. Violation of the child restraint law is a standard offense.
“Fortunately, car seat manufacturers have created seats that allow children to remain rear-facing until they weigh 40 pounds or more, which means most children can remain rear-facing past their second birthday,” explains the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The law had a delayed implementation date to provide Virginia residents time to prepare for compliance. That changes July 1. AAA Mid-Atlantic took the lead advocacy role in the effort to strengthen Virginia’s child restraint law for the safety of children in vehicles. The auto club is thrilled to see this legislation go into effect, as it is a strong step forward to keep our children safe while traveling in a vehicle.
AAA provides automotive, travel, and insurance services to 59 million members nationwide and nearly 80,000 members in the District of Columbia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. AAA is a non-stock, non-profit corporation working on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel, and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app (AAA.com/mobile) for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit www.AAA.com.